Book Review: Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows

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Title: Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Publisher: Harper Collins (24 March 2017)
Genre: Fiction
Price: Rs. 300 on Amazon
Pages: 320

The only reason I picked up this book was for the pretty cover and well, the intriguing title. I had seen this do the rounds on social media for some time and the book reviewers I trust were pretty happy with this one. I've been wary of Indian authors for a while now and I'm very skeptical about choosing their books. Before I started reading this, I expected it to be high on sex and sleaze. Thankfully, it did not turn out to be like that.

The main protagonist of this book is Nikki, a 22 year old British citizen born to Punjabi parents in London. She's a rebel and wants to figure out life on her own and hence drops out of college and works at a pub to support herself. She's moved out of her parent's house and lives in a place above the pub. She takes up another part-time job to teach creative writing to Punjabi women, in a Sikh-Temple at Southall, a predominantly Punjabi area in London. Kulwinder is the woman who hired Nikki, and is battling demons of her own. Still anguished by the death of her only daughter, Maya, Kulwinder seldom looks forward to good things in life and this has affected her marriage drastically. When Nikki arrives for her first day at work, she realizes that her class only consists of Punjabi widows who cannot read or write English. Nikki then realizes that this is an adult literacy class and not a creative writing class as she was promised by Kulwinder.

When Nikki starts teaching these widows the basics of the Alphabet, one widow Sheena finds a book titled 'Red Velvet: Pleasurable Stories for Women', a gift intended for Nikki's sister in her bag, she starts reading a few scenes aloud. The widows though surprised by it, find it fascinating. Soon, they convince Nikki to let them create erotic stories about their fantasies and have them read it out loud in the class. When Nikki realizes that these women are really interested in doing this rather than learn English, she lets them. One by one, the women come up with stories of their own featuring made up characters but the fantasies are their own. They use vegetables like cucumber and aubergines to talk about the male organ and these stories though immature, does evoke sexual curiosity. While Nikki and her class of erotic story telling is the main plot, there is a side plot featuring Kulwinder and an outcast widow, Tarampal.

Kulwinder's daughter Maya was married to Tarampal's relative and she dies in mysterious circumstances. Somehow, Nikki stumbles upon the truth behind Maya's death and offers to help Kulwinder out. But when Kulwinder finds out the truth about Nikki's classes, she's aghast. Will Nikki be able to heal Kulwinder? Will the truth about Maya change Kulwinder's relationship with her distant husband? What secret is Tarampal hiding?

I'll start by saying that I loved this book. I loved the writing style of the author too. She's effortless in her description and dialogues and everything comes out looking and feeling natural. This book gives voice to the women who are expected to be voiceless and are usually ignored. Most of the widows in the book are clueless about their lives and are content living in the shadow of their deceased spouses. When such women talk about their wildest sexual fantasies, one is bound to take notice. While a widow talks about using ghee as a lubricant, she explains the need to sneak it into small containers during cooking, under the nose of a mother-in-law. “Otherwise it was challenging to get big drums of ghee into the bedroom without the rest of the family seeing", she says. There are a lot of dialogues like this that evoke humor mostly and sometimes a gasp. I'd be honest in saying that I'll probably never look at ghee and an aubergine the same way again.

The author uses humor amply in the book and this resonates with the reader beautifully. While the book touches upon serious topics like rebel children, child marriage, blackmail, widows with sexual fantasies and domestic violence, the soul of the book is light and well justified. The author took a big risk by talking about the Punjabi community in the erotic parlance, but the risk does pay off. While most of the characters are adorable, two widows Sheena and Manjeet stood out for me. The novel talks about many widows, and addresses all their lives in the end. Each character is given a good back story, and an impressive start and end to their story. I did not find any loopholes in this book. But, I do question the need for a murder mystery in this otherwise light and happy book. The story does take a dramatic turn due to this and I felt this whole thing to be unnecessary. The truth about Tarampal could have come out in a much better way. The need to include a love story for Nikki was questionable too, but when the story revealed itself, it made sense.

This book is not only about erotica. It is about rebellion, acceptance and freedom as well.


Verdict: This book is definitely a must read. Everything about this book is positive and the very fact that almost every character in this book is a female and the focus is on her life and needs makes this a winner for me.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

5 comments:

  1. I loved this book as well. And I loved even more what the book represents. Somehow makes me happy when fellow readers also like the book I liked. :)

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    1. Like you, I totally loved what this book represents Naba :)

      You are one of those who pushed me to pick this one, so thank you for that.

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  2. I am so happy to read your review and was happier still to have got this book to read!! Thank you so much for introducing me to this gem!

    Awesome review; I just disagree on the criticism of the murder- to me it just fitted in with all the other "stuff".

    Ghee indeed!!! ;-)

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    1. I knew you would love this! :)

      Murder stuff was good, but in an scenario about erotica it felt a bit mismatched for me.

      Oh, don't get me started on ghee :P

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  3. I've heard good things about this book. Might try and read it at some point

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